Despite cancer being the leading cause of premature death in North America, and currently one in four North Americans dying from cancer, there is some great news. According to the World Health Organization’s World Cancer Report, healthy lifestyles and a healthy diet can prevent as many as one-third of cancers worldwide. World Cancer Day is February 4th this year, and I’ll recommend some simple cancer prevention strategies below.

Some of the common suggestions that help is to eat more vegetables and fruit, exercise three to four hours per week, stop smoking, and reduce our salt consumption. As a naturopathic doctor, I like to optimize the ways that we can prevent illness, including cancer. One simple way to optimize preventing cancer is to drink more natural herbal teas. Teas have been consumed from different plants for thousands of years for multiple benefits.

There are a variety of herbal teas that we can drink to bring us cancer prevention benefits. The first is tea. It is thought that one significant factor contributing to the lower rates of cancers in East Asia is due to their regular consumption of tea. There are cancer benefits to all four kinds of tea: black tea, green tea, oolong tea, and white tea. The primary beneficial compounds found in tea are called polyphenols. There are different ratios of polyphenols in each type of tea – most research is done on green tea, although white tea has more total polyphenol content. So what does the research show? Although more human research is needed, there are thousands of positive animal and laboratory studies conducted on human tissues that show the cancer prevention benefits of tea polyphenols. I recommend two to three cups a day to show some of the beneficial effects from tea. To increase the benefits of tea, squeeze citrus fruit juice into your tea – lemon, or orange or lime – and it will better preserve the beneficial polyphenol content from our digestion.

The second type of tea I recommend for cancer prevention is from culinary herbs and spices. These include sage, rosemary, thyme, oregano, peppermint, and other culinary plants. A 2011 study published in the Journal of the Science of Food and Agriculture tested different herb extracts on human colon cancer cells. They found that the plant extracts from sage, rosemary, thyme, peppermint and spearmint all inhibited the growth of colon cancer cells. The strongest effect was from sage, and the combination of sage with peppermint also showed synergistic benefits. These are plants that grow well in most gardens, so to mark world cancer day this year, plan to plant and use these herbs for possible cancer prevention benefits for you and your family.

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